You don’t get many men falling over themselves to tell you about their childhood when you first start dating. People who had idyllic ones don’t usually feel the need to wheel them out to make conversation.
Unless we had a very bad one, or grew up with celebrities or politicians for parents or something, there’s very little to say about one’s childhood beyond the usual bewilderment at how all the chocolate bars were bigger and everyone got smacked on the legs in the supermarket. The teenage rebel however, idolises his childhood self.
Whenever a date would say “I was such a little shit at school” or a “I was a real tearaway when I was younger”, I’d cringe, steeling myself for a good hour of exaggerations, tales of pathetic, totally invented rebellions and grim attention-seeking that only a child would think were in any way cool or interesting.
As a teen, of course, most of us wallflowers and squares wished we had the pluck – not to mention the attention – of the classroom troublemaker. The nearest I got to it was some unremarkable, try-hard backchat in French lessons. I look back and am mortified by it now. In no way would I ever have considered using this to impress a date 20 years and 11 average grades down the track.
Teenage rebellion always seemed a really soulless path to me. At my school most of the rebels were also colossal bullies – usually, of course, the result of genuine issues at home.
But while for some it was an angry cry for help, others played up safe in the knowledge that somebody would bail them out, that there would be enough money to propel them forward again.
Rebellion was never an option for me; I had no family estate to fall back on. Acting out led to failing exams which led to never being able to leave our hometown, and I was counting on being able to do that as quickly as I could. And I was the only person who could make that happen.
I would have been no good at being a rebel anyway, not a proper one. I looked 11 years old until the age of 22 and was so risk averse I would walk miles and miles home from school every day rather than brave the bullies on the bus.
And rebels need disciples, fans, acolytes. I wasn’t particularly popular so nobody was ever going to clap and cheer my drivelling attempts at anarchy. So I gave up and left it to the experts and smoked in private by the dry stone wall. The cigarettes tasted better with nobody to impress.
But teenagers are stupid and can see no farther than the end of their parents’ grovelling letter to the head, so I forgive the tousle-haired sham heroes of chemistry who set exercise books on fire with Bunsen burners or the Danton of CDT, bravely climbing on to the table and telling Miss Robinson she has nice tits in the name of revolution.
When they bring their adolescent mutinies into the present day and expect your jersey trunks to twang in appreciation, however, it’s time to let go. No-one ever dreamed of screwing the boy who made a dinner lady cry.
Like most of us, he grew up to be nobody in particular, so your misty-eyed date harks back to the days when he controlled a classroom and had all eyes on him because now he has no such luck.
The irony is, of course, that this is almost always made up. The banter he quotes usually belongs to some other hapless soul from your date’s class whose bad behaviour ruined their life for ever, while your bragging date would cower in a corner wishing it were him being punished with week-long detentions – the fastest way to legendary status this side of shagging JFK and necking a load of barbiturates.
The real rebels and rowdy troublemakers at school don’t look back on it fondly and expect a medal – they’re either glad to have left it all behind or, sadly, are still defined by it and dealing with the destruction it’s caused.
Missing it in adulthood, the faux-teenage rebel hankers after that elusive “cool” factor. And he was never so cool as he was when he was telling the headmaster to get fucked back in 1999. Even though it never happened.
He wants you to be wowed by the thought someone so ordinary and upstanding – a few Tube stops short of dull, really – could have been this daredevil maverick. “But you’ve turned out so well,” he wants you to gush. “You’ve really turned your life around.”
But if you stop to think about it, which you should, you’re impressed by the idea of someone being cool when they were still a child. And what’s cool to a child – ignoring uniform rules, underage drinking on the school bus, acting up in lessons, lame underdeveloped backchat – is actually super boring and pathetic once you pass the age of 18.
Your teenage rebel’s greatest hits are far behind him, and can never be replayed. What future for the boy who longs to wallow in his exaggerated, cheap thrill of a rebellious past?